on verge of
“I’m with you
of death’s heads
now glints in
ink from the
photo by Natalia Gaia
Do you know, Daphne, the lyrics of that old song,
Heard at the foot of the sycamore tree or under the white laurels,
Beneath the olive tree, the myrtle, or the trembling willows,
That song of love that always begins anew? …
Do you recognize the Temple with the immense peristyle,
And the bitter lemons that bear the imprint of your teeth,
And that cave, fatal to imprudent visitors,
Where the ancient seed of the vanquished dragon sleeps?
They will return, these gods that you still mourn!
Time will bring back the religion of the old days;
The earth has trembled with a prophetic breath …
Meanwhile the sibyl with the Latin visage
Still sleeps under the arch of Constantine
– And nothing has disturbed the severe portico.
Translation of Gérard de Nerval
I think of you, Myrtho, divine enchantress,
Of lofty Posilipo with a thousand fires aglow,
Of your brow flooded with the radiance of the Orient,
And the black grapes mixed with your flowing golden tresses.
It is from your cup that I once tasted drunkenness,
And from the stealthy lightning of your smiling eyes
Back when I could be seen praying at the feet of Iacchus,
For the Muse had made me one of the sons of Greece.
I know why the volcano erupted again in that place….
It is because yesterday you grazed it with an agile foot,
And suddenly the sky was blackened with smoke.
Though the Norman Duke has destroyed your gods of clay
Forever, under the laurel boughs of Virgil,
The pale hydrangea unites with the green myrtle!
Peter Valente is a writer, translator and filmmaker. He is the author of 11 full-length books, including a translation of Nanni Balestrini’s Blackout (Commune Editions), which received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. His most recent book is a co-translation of Succubations and Incubations: The Selected Letters of Antonin Artaud (1945-1947) (Infinity Land Press). Forthcoming from Semiotext(e) is his translation of Nicolas Pages by Guillaume Dustan.
Hubble Captures the Ghost of Cassiopeia
Here the queen is seen with her hair
piled high, frosty blue wisps pinned together,
her robes pooling on the sky-floor, swirled
around the seat of her throne. Her cheeks hold
a blush of laugher, her skin pricked with rose gold jewels.
She looks flawless underneath Polaris,
her shroud loose about her shoulders
like she hurries nowhere, dresses for no one.
We wonder where in this picture is the ghost?
Most would tell us it’s the light spread of frosting,
the iridescent river nearest the edge that mimics a body.
But what if the ghost is the biggest dark spot between her pale arms?
The absent center, the hole the whole image bends around?
Or what about the disparate brightest points?
The spots that bleed the camera’s pupil into exes?
Anyone who’s held a death knows how infinite
it becomes, light-years of hydrogen sparks in a dark sky.
Aly Pierce lives in Beverly, Mass., where she drinks coffee and mails you records from Deathwish Inc. Her debut collection, The Visible Planets, is available now from Game Over Books.
A Love Letter to the Tactile
After Chris Farley
Because I am good at inventing reasons I belong here,
I buy a “burnt sienna dress” with bell sleeves & identify as
someone who loves the 70’s. I go through a Dolly Parton
phase, play “9 to 5” every morning as I curate a business-
casual look to then walk in circles around the neighborhood,
recording the colors of the prettiest houses for a map in my diary.
I slurp down oysters & wait to absorb that same potential
for pearlescent shine. It’s not that I’m frivolous, just so good
at wanting everything outside myself, so good at coveting light
I forget you can see through it. I am a rainbow against the horrific
concrete business districts, uniform in literally every major city
in the US. I only believe in what I can touch so why would I
waste time on my own supernatural antics? Concept: At the end
of this poem, the audience applauds like I am Tinkerbell
& the only thing actualizing my body is their faith in it. Concept:
a horoscope is just the stars ordering cocktails after a long
workweek of being scientific & pragmatic & stuff. I’m trying
to be fun, goddammit. But all there is to do is collect acrylic nails
as they fracture from my own hands & become tiny funerals
for each time my own wants got taken seriously. Every morning
I make myself beautiful is an entertaining of superstition.
I apply for another job & stir basil I grew into the soup for luck.
When nobody is watching, I exist so much more than I can
afford. I guess I am “young” & “full of stars” & “a fervent believer
in witchcraft” & “a blue eyeshadow enthusiast” & “raucously
insisting on my queerness” & “love to show off at least my tits,
ass or legs at any given moment.” But I promise, when you’re
here, all you’ll see is a velour dress, floating, without a head.
Sara Mae is a white, queer fashion witch and community organizer raised between Baltimore and Annapolis, Md. She is the 2017 IWPS rep for Slam Free Or Die, a 2018 Emerson College CUPSI team member, and a 2018 Boston Poetry Slam NPS team member. She is the winner of the inaugural Peach Mag Bronze Prize, selected by Morgan Parker. Their first chapbook, Priestess of Tankinis, is out via Game Over Books. In her free time, she is learning burlesque in the studio or in her bedroom, and writing songs for her project Day Night Dress. If they could go to dinner with any famous person, they wouldn’t care who it was as long as there was Old Bay on the food.
Emma Gomis and Anne Waldman.
Anne Waldman once appeared in my dream as a beautiful dark bird-like angel. Her black hair, scarves, and sleeves of her garments billowing as she swayed, floating above a rippling pool of water below her. Anne moves like this, like water, flowing from one space to the next, swiftly moving a fan above her head, twisting her arms and snapping her wrists. She grabs you by the arm and speaks intimately, focusing all of her attention, moving with you until she flutters off to the next conversation, the next thing that wants for her attention, leaving you in a cloud of her wonderful scent, in a daze stirring with inspiration, with an impulse to go out and activate your own work. Every time I think of Anne, trying to invoke her presence to bring me strength or offer me guidance, I think of her as this dark bird angel. And so, I present her to you as a triptych, part chiaroscuro, part bird, and part angel.
by Emma Gomis
The first part of our triptych, the panel to the left, is a landscape painted in shades of dark green and bright amber. The darkness, an opacity that cloaks the location, but if we squint we can make out a landscape that melds the dark green ponderosa pines of Colorado with the streets of New York City. MacDougal Street winds away from us toward the mountains where in the distance we can make out a small fire, the embers glowing in the night.
This section of the triptych depicts Anne as a chiaroscuro, the blending of light and dark. Her brightness, which fuels her ability to seriously engage with the political realms head on, not shying away from the darkness but rather kindling the fire that burns and allowing it to spark into its own forms of activism. Anne is associated with various literary movements such as the Beats, New York School, Black Mountain, and other experimental trajectories of American Poetry, but she adds her own twists that are so uniquely hers. For the past six decades, Anne has worked as a feminist, teacher, poet, editor, magpie scholar, powerful performer, and a cultural and political activist. Waldman is, in her words, “drawn to the magical efficacies of language as a political act.” Her version of the political is urgent and necessary, a blending of darkness with light as she looks into your eyes and asks you to get out there and do something.
In the 1970s she was arrested at Rocky Flats with Allen Ginsberg and Daniel Ellsberg for protesting the plutonium “pits” manufactured for the triggers for warheads. This led to a commitment to the accountability for nuclear waste to future generations, a vow that she honors by continuing to register for protests on the contamination at the ghost plant. She continues to engage in political acts. In 2019 she was out protesting at the Arvada Immigrant Detention Center in Colorado and drove down to El Paso to protest at the border.
We can also see her political engagement in all of her over 40 books of poetry. Her latest book, Trickster Feminism, summons a powerful kind of political magic. Anne is a cunning rule breaker, positioned disruptively outside of conventional mores, working against capitalism, against the patriarchy. Her career defies political and poetic convention, in favor of feminist mischief and playfulness. Her work as a cultural and political activist is enmeshed with her poetry.
Her practice in Tibetan Buddhism is also inextricably connected to her poetry, which brings me to the second triptych on the right. This one depicts a bird, its wings spanning the length of the entire panel. The New York Times has called Anne a “combination of oracle, siren and den mother.” No one can deny that there is some alluring magic to this bird. The way she hovers and shimmers, the light hitting her feathers at different angles. In Trickster Feminism Anne tells of a woman “mumbling mantras … as she circles the tower. … Om Man Be Gone … Om Con Con Be Gone.”
She incorporates ritual and rhizomic meditations into her words. The performance of her work is engaging and physical, often including chant or song. She remains a highly original “open field investigator” of consciousness, committed to the possibilities of radical shifts of language and states of mind to create new modal structures and montages of attention. In Voice’s Daughter of a Heart Yet To Be Born (2016), which, as Lyn Hejinian says, “brings Waldman’s work into the more intimate paradoxical folds of poetic (and prophetic) knowledge,” Anne appropriates the idea of Blake’s unborn spirit of Thel to explore artists’ and activists’ roles during the Anthropocene.
A bird can also fly, and so Anne seems to be everywhere at once. She has worked at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and at the Women’s Christian College in Tokyo. She has presented her work at conferences and festivals around the world, most recently in Jaipur, Bratislava, Wuhan, Beijing, Berlin, Nicaragua, Prague, Kerala, Mumbai, Calcutta, Marrakech, and Madrid. Her work has been translated into numerous languages. She has recently been teaching in Morocco, collaborating with the Taamas foundation and in Oaxaca and in Mexico City where she gave a poetry workshop at a women’s prison with the initiative Rizoma.
All of this while somehow finding time to still keep writing more books, the next of which will be Bard Kenetic, as well as a libretto for an opera with music by David T. Little telling a story which constellates around William S. Burroughs and David Lynch.
In the third and central panel of our triptych we find an angel, and by angel I mean something like the sycamore tree, or an aspen grove with its rhizomatic roots. This is the side of Anne that is teacher and mentor, the side that is committed to keeping the world safe for poetry.
Her commitment to poetry extends beyond her own work to her support of alternative poetry communities. She has collaborated extensively with visual artists, musicians, and dancers. She often collaborates and with her son, musician and composer Ambrose Bye and nephew Devin Waldman. She has just recently released an album called Sciamachy, a word that means shadow war, which Patti Smith has called “a psychic shield for our times”. The album features Laurie Anderson, Deb Googe (of My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream), and free jazz legend William Parker, among others.
Her deep commitment to her students manifests in her always encouraging us to keep writing, and to keep pursuing our thinking, always inquiring about our most recent projects and offering advice along the way.
In 1965 Anne attended the Berkeley Poetry Conference, where the Outrider voices she encountered inspired her to commit to poetry and to found Angel Hair with Lewis Warsh, a small press that published a magazine and numerous books. She returned to New York and was one of the founders and directors, of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, a role she continued for a decade and where she worked with poets including Ted Berrigan, Allen Ginsberg, and Diane di Prima, among others. In 1974, with Ginsberg, Anne founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo., the first Buddhist inspired University in the western hemisphere. It was here that we met and fostered a deep friendship as well as a collaborative relationship, currently working on two cowritten chapbooks and coediting an anthology from the Naropa Archives titled New Weathers forthcoming on Nightboat Books.
Anne is a recipient of the Before Columbus Foundation for Lifetime Achievement, bestowed on her by Ishmael Reed, the Dylan Thomas Memorial Award, the National Literary Anthology Award, American Book Award’s Lifetime Achievement, a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, and was elected and served six years as a chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. The Huffington Post named her one of the top advocates for American poetry. She was also a “poet in residence” with Bob Dylan’s famed concert tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue, in 1975–76, stay tuned for a movie coming out soon. And has received grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
I could go on but suffice it to say that she is a counter-cultural giant, and also a generous inspiration to us all.
Emma Gomis (www.emmajanegomis.com) is a Catalan American essayist, poet, editor, and translator. Her texts have been published in Denver Quarterly, Entropy, Asymptote, Vice Magazine, and Mother Jones, among others and her chapbook Canxona is forthcoming from b l u s h lit. She is the cofounder of Manifold Press, which publishes texts in experimental criticism. She holds an M.F.A. in creative writing and poetics from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where she was also the Anne Waldman Fellowship recipient. She will be pursuing a Ph.D. in criticism and culture at the University of Cambridge in October 2020. Ed Bowes photo.
Kenneth Koch, Anne Waldman, Jerome Rothenberg, Allen Ginsberg, and Ed Sanders at a Poetry Project Symposium, 1987. Vivian Selbo photo.by Kyle Dacuyan
The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church
Spring a few years ago, I think it was shortly after Anne’s birthday, I remember she had assembled a group of poets, musicians, dancers, makers in between and beyond to share work for a kind of near-equinoctial salon. It was entirely intuitive: the manner, the sequence, the feeling. No authority or suggestion of stage management, just people in shared time and space. When Anne started what she felt called to start, there was a kind of rolling meditation, sustained attention and listening to the language in an epigraph from Yu Hsuan-Chi: “Nothing needs doing. I’m idle and free now.”
Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, and Robert Creeley in the West Yard at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. Date and photographer unknown.
That line, accumulating and rising, and tumbling across years toward persistent shifting springs, into the poem Anne read—”trick o’life”—a variation sequence building from refrains of this is: “this is and this is / and / this is the way it looks / writing purgatory / and this is and this is / its sound.”
There are endless word-portals into Anne Waldman’s work but “this” and “is” feel right today: she has built vast worlds of poetry and community from her call to presence, her dedication to being with and naming, to opening the polyverse and staying with aporia.
This and is and spring—I think of that season and its attendant inflorescence when I look at the vast interdependent structures of Anne’s work. Within language and within communities of language-workers, everywhere we see the mark of her beginnings and endurings, things coming to the surface finally and with great possibility. For all of her brilliance and, I think it is true to say, her wisdom, I perceive Anne as radiant with continued study. Maybe that is why and how she is so particularly a leader; her attention is something we gather along or around, as opposed to under.
Anne Waldman with Fast Speaking Music at the 45th Annual New Year’s Day Marathon, 2019. Ted Roeder photo.
We at The Poetry Project work in the grain of her spirit: counter-culture, counter-hierarchy, counter-market, counter-possibility. When the rector of St. Mark’s presented the Church as a space for our radical and enduring Project, Anne said: what else could poetry be here? Publication, teaching, performance, gathering, community—how could all of this happen differently? What I admire and most learn from Anne is that we are not trying to amass new centers of power. Our work is not acquisition. We are finding what can happen when we reorient culture as a force of continued divestment, redistribution, and aid.
I asked Anne recently how she thinks of the word project. What were the projects of poetry in 1966 when we first set up at the Church? What are the projects of poetry today? And she said: well I also think of it like proJECT, what you do with light onto a surface. We project. Not a noun, a verb. This and is—the poet making and illuminating through the constancies of change.
Kyle Dacuyan (www.kyledacuyan.com) writes poems and makes performance. His writing has appeared in Ambit, The Offing, Social Text, and elsewhere. Brendan Lorber photo.
Alystyre Julian, Outrider film
by Thurston Moore
Before I had ever met Anne I had written a poem “Anne Waldman,” which was simply her name repeatedly text-chanted creating a free gesture visio-verbio page. It was the beginning of the century, 2001, in Northampton, Massachusetts. Byron Coley and I were presenting poetry readings at our New Grass center of the Arts in a mill building in nearby Florence. Anne came up one momentous occasion with Janine Pommy Vega and I discussed Angel Hair, her 1960s poetry journal she edited with Lewis Warsh (poetnames!). I had been fastidiously archiving these vanishing documents of soul heart love mind breath expression and showed her my library. She gave the quickest of looks, but I could see the entire vibratory community of activist text measure in her acknowledgement. Soon she would ask me to be a teacher at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She recognized how the Buddhist principle of welcoming was holistic to my moving forward in a time of chaotic transition. Her words and her energy were a mentorship of love. Ecstatic Peace Library is the work and life I have with my love and light Eva, and it is Anne who offered us space to belong and realize each moment where all of time comes into play as we discover inside outside the eternal poem.
thurston moore, 2001, northampton ma usa
Thurston Moore was born in 1958. Moved to NYC in 1978. Founded Sonic Youth. Wrote poetry. Toured and recorded relentlessly. Wrote poetry. Published the Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal and Flowers & Cream press. Taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (USA) and the Rhythymic Music Conservatory (Denmark). Lives in London. Writes Poetry. Makes Noise.
Ron Kolm working at Posman Books in Grand Central, which closed years ago.
Sarah Sarai poses a few questions to the archivist of the downtown poets and activist for literature.
You are from Pennsylvania, that hotbed and mixed bag of American history. Artists from Pennsylvania include Warhol, Toi Derricotte, Wallace Stevens, Willa Cather, Terrance Hayes; many others. What do you carry with you from growing up there? What brought your folks there and why’d you leave?
My father was an engineer who helped design the B-29, which dropped atom bombs on Japan at the end of WWII. He worked for Boeing in Seattle, then moved to Pittsburgh to help design landing craft. He ended up becoming the chief engineer of the Delaware River Port Authority, and that’s why my family ended up in Flourtown, Penn. He had the final say as far as repairs on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge were concerned.
After VISTA ended, we moved to New York City. During the winter of my discontent in Appalachia I spent hours writing and, figuring that all real writers seemed to eventually live in, or pass through, NYC, we decided to head in that direction. I had read a ton of Pennsylvanian writers in college: John Updike, John O’Hara, among them, but the one who influenced me the most was Ezra Pound. Every poet should be required to read his book, The ABC of Reading. It’s a terrific roadmap to better writing.
You’ve mentioned that your sister is/was a minister. I’m a fan of belief, despite having a Christian Scientist for a mother. Without asking if you “believe,” which is none of my business and also simplistic, I dare to ask if (and how) both traditional and our generation’s hippie spiritualism figure into your life.
I’ll answer that as best I can. I’ve always tried to analyze what happened in America from my own perspective: from the conformity of the ’50s to the countercultural reaction of the ’60s and ’70s. It all boils down to a war: Vietnam. In the ’50s I would go to a neighborhood bank with my father every Friday night and marvel at all the stiff white men dressed in suits with their close-cropped hair playing with their money. None of them smiled or talked to anyone else—to me, they were all zombies. During my college years, as the war unfolded, I watched as folks grew their hair long and discovered drugs. The Beats were in vogue, and demonstrations against the war finally ensued.
To answer your question, I guess this is when I became a humanist. I’m not particularly openly religious, but during this period of doing drugs there was one moment that etched itself in my mind forever. I was looking out a window at a cloudy sky, utterly stoned, and it hit me in a flash that the universe has a dark sense of humor. I continue to marvel at this dark humor whenever impossible coincidences occur in my life, or to others, and it is those moments I try to capture in my poetry and prose.
My poem “Corpses and Cats” is about the siege of Leningrad. It sprang from a bio I’d read of Shostakovich—all of which I said at the Parkside while on stage. You shouted I should read his memoirs. Which is to say: I have noted you are a voracious reader. When did this splendid affliction first show? Were there other readers in your childhood and adolescence and how did they influence you (or not)?
I was a lonely kid, trapped in my bedroom in my parents’ suburban house after coming home from school every day. The only thing I could do to fill all the dead time was read. I worked my way through the family library, and then through the books I would find during Boy Scout paper drives. Because I was lonely and introverted, most of the stuff I read involved war—I can still tell you everything you’d never want to know about WWI and WWII.
Idiotic though we may be, most poets I run across fantasize some fame. Is that part of the creative impulse? If it’s not too probing, is it an engine of your indefatigable energy? (Sensitive Skin; the Unbearables; your archives; your poems and fiction.) If not, any idea what drives you?
In all honesty, I do think about this, and I guess I would answer thusly (and this is a great question!). Given all the stuff that’s been written during the course of human history, why has only some of it lasted? In fact, only a very small portion goes forward through time. I feel sort of blessed to be swimming in this river, and I try to keep my head above the waves. I do feel that my job is to try to give back something for what I’ve gotten. Literature liberated me from a death-in-life existence, and I am grateful for that. And I guess my self-definition is more than a little wrapped around how my work is received. Sure, to some degree or another I do live through my oeuvre.
The Fales Library at NYU houses the Ron Kolm Papers—35+ cartons of books, letters, objects. Where did you store all this before? What led you to archive the downtown poets of NYC?
I have to admit that I’m an anal retentive, so collecting things is what I do. I collect decks of cards, especially the aces. I also collect foreign film dvds—I have complete runs of Bunuel, Godard, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, etc., so collecting all the works by the authors I love was a no-brainer.
When I moved to the city I made my way to Schocken Books, the publisher of Franz Kafka, and bought a set of his books in hardcover. I have runs of Beckett, Joyce, Anne Sexton—you name it. So, as a true anal retentive who was already hooked on collecting books, I lucked out and got a job in the Strand Bookstore. When that ended rather abruptly, the only job I could find was at Eastside Bookstore, in the heart of the East Village. It didn’t take me long to discover how culturally rich this somewhat abandoned neighborhood was. There was ABC No Rio, CBGBs, and a ton of self-produced zines and chapbooks. I was pretty sure that no one else was collecting this stuff, so I dug in with gusto. I ended up with so much material in my tiny apartment you could barely see out of the windows if you looked over the boxes of stuff on tiptoes.
As far as the Fales goes, that happened because Marvin Taylor became the head librarian and found out about my collection from the reviewer Vince Passaro, and got in touch with me. I also had been written up in The New York Times for all the crap that was in my apartment. I have built and continue to feed other archives as well: SUNY Buffalo, the main branch of the N.Y. Public Library on 42nd Street, The Harry Ransom Center in Texas, and Rochester University.
I don’t know that things are “worse” than ever before—the country began by thieving, shackling, and murdering. But they ain’t good. What do you see as the flaw, in the U.S. or humans, in general?
Another great question, which I do think about almost continuously. I have this notion that human nature hasn’t changed a jot since the beginning of humankind. The same amount of good and bad exist, or co-exist, with each other down through time. I think the Greeks felt that there was a balance between good and evil—Thanatos and Eros—death and life. I tell my friends to try to add to the Eros side as best they can, because so many folks are tossing stuff onto the other side.
Of course population growth is exponential, and climate change might wipe us all out. The other great problem that follows us down through history is the terrible treatment of women by men, which is unforgivable. I fear the violence that so many males seem to internalize, and then act out—I read about this in the books on warfare I collected—and it scares me to this day. I can still hope for a better day, and that is why I write.
Ron Kolm is a writer, bookseller, publisher, and more. He earned two degrees in history and channeled his historical bent to documenting New York City’s downtown poetry scene by collecting posters, small press and hand-made artifacts, and other downtown-alia. His archives were purchased by NYU’s Fales Library. Ron is author of The Plastic Factory, Welcome to the Barbecue, Divine Comedy, and many other books; editor of several anthologies; co-organizer of the downtown poetry collective, Unbearables. He lives in Astoria with his wife and two sons.
Sarah Sarai is the author of the poetry collections That Strapless Bra in Heaven (Kelsay), Geographies of Soul and Taffeta (Indolent), and The Future Is Happy (BlazeVOX) [books]. She fell weirdly in love with her first Barbie doll. Sarah lives in Manhattan.